Whoever penned the phrase “getting there is half the fun” had clearly never travelled with kids to some far-off destination. Whether you’re heading off by car, plane, bus or train, you’re going to need some advance preparation, a few tricks up your sleeve and an extra dose of patience if your kids are in tow.
After more than a decade of travel with my two children, I’ve developed a few secret weapons for making trips go smoothly. Especially when my children were little, I would prepare a goodie bag for each of them, filled with small toys and things to eat. These coveted bags would only appear once the kids were sitting in their seats, strapped in and ready to go.
The highlight of the goodie bag was a little toy I selected to amuse them — a Polly Pocket for my daughter, for example, or a new matchbox car for my son. Okay, I admit I also included some popcorn balls and even a small bag of potato chips. Looking back, I think I could have gotten away with more wholesome treats, because the magic of the goodie bag, after all, was its novelty, which made the trip itself seem like a great adventure.
But we quickly learned never to rely solely on the goodie bag to get us smoothly through an entire trip. Even today, with portable DVD players, personal stereos and Game Boys at the ready, families still need to pay attention to the basics: food and water. Making sure kids and adults are well fed and hydrated can ward off meltdowns — theirs and yours.
Don’t start a trip on an empty stomach; eat a solid breakfast or lunch with protein. Then pack easy-to-eat snacks like cheese cubes, carrot sticks, dried fruit or granola bars. If you are flying, keep in mind that current regulations prevent you from bringing bottles of water and other liquids past security (visit the Transport Canada website, www.tc.gc.ca, for up-to-date rules), so you may need to buy water once you’re at the gate.
If you are driving, take along a cooler for snacks. A paper towel roll and a container of wipes can also come in handy. If your children are just out of diapers, consider toting along a travel potty for when the situation is dire and going in the woods is not an option (according to the child).
To save time, it can be tempting to eat all your meals in the car, but you might consider pulling over for a quick meal. It will give the whole family a much-needed break from the confines of the car.
If your child gets car or air sick, make sure he or she eats and drinks only lightly before the trip (fatty foods and soft drinks sometimes make nausea worse). Also, ask the child to avoid reading or colouring since looking down can cause nausea. Make sure you have a stash of plastic bags and wipes handy in case of vomiting.
Consider bringing an easily accessible change of clothes for each of your kids in case of accidents or spills.
To combat the inevitable delays of travel, not to mention the long stretches of time when kids must stay still in a seat, you’ll need to consider ways of keeping the little ones entertained. Your choices will depend on the ages and interests of your children, but here are a few ideas:
- Any bright or new toy or rattle
- Musical or pop-up toys
- A safe plastic mirror
- Soothing music (CD or tape)
- Simple picture books
- Square crayons (so they don’t roll away) and a notebook
- Finger puppets
- Favourite stuffed animal
- Age-appropriate books on tape
- Travel desk sets
- Magnetic puzzles (small)
- Silly Putty and newspapers (our kids favorite)
- iPods or CD players (with headphones)
- Electronic toys (with headphones)
- Travel size board games
Our family has enjoyed traditional travel games such as “I Spy” especially as the kids have gotten older. One of our favourites is the “ABC” game. Each child in the car (adults can play too) tries to find something outside the car that begins with the letter A (such as an airplane), or a word on a sign that begins with A. This game can also be modified into a “123” game when you try to find numbers (more challenging than you might think).
It’s never easy getting a family ready to embark on a trip. But getting there can be part of the fun if you plan ahead and can improvise a bit when the inevitable delays happen.
Web Resources for Family Travel
Games that can be played in a car:
For travel games you can print out (license plate games, connect the dots, mazes, etc.):
www.travelwithkids.about.com (Look under “In Depth” of the section on “Tips, Games, Toys and Gear”)
www.familyfun.go.com (Click under Travel and then look for the section “Car Trips”)
www.enchantedlearning.com (You’ll find printable games, worksheets and activity sheets for all kinds of topics from animals to music)